After the incredible trip from east Tennessee to western South Dakota, I arrived at this other-worldly location called Badlands National Park. The area looks like a wrinkled desert with thick patches of grass. It was formed by soil deposits being eroded away into unique formations that are now a visual history of the last 75 million years or so, all the way down to the ancient sea bed that South Dakota once was. It's a sight to behold, for sure.
The area is full of fossils and some awesome discoveries have been made here, like a Saber Tooth Tiger skull that was found by a 7 year old girl. The formations are said to erode away at an average of one inch every year, which means fossils show up all the time.
The park has a handful of hiking trails but the scenic loop road was actually designed to show the best parts of the park and it certainly does that. It's a great place to just wander around without a trail. I walked for hours, checking out the different formations and mind-blowing rocks that were everywhere. I always wanted to see what was around the next hill.
The parks open 24 hours a day and is unreal at night. Light pollution is almost nonexistent and the sky comes alive. The Milky Way is perfectly visible with the naked eye. If the moon's out, the near-white capped formations reflect any light as if it were snow. The brightly colored geology also makes sunsets and sunrises pop like I've rarely seen. Whatever color the sky is, is what color the rocks are.
The fauna of the park is pretty cool too. This was my (and Lola's) first time seeing Bison, Prairie Dogs, Antelope and Big Horn Sheep. That's a lot to take in, especially when you could see all of those inside a 10 minute drive. Sage Creek Rim Road is the best place to see wildlife. As the name implies, it follows the north west rim of the park. So on one side are the Badlands formations and on the other side of the road is wide open plain. The sheep seems to stay tucked into the cliff sides while the other animals are grazing in the plain. I think the Prairie Dogs just hang out at their burrows. They sit on their butts and stick straight up like they're posing for NatGeo.
Also worth noting, if you enter the park from the town of Wall, you'll drive through a section of Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. It's seemingly endless rolling, windy plains. It's probably not much to visit except for one catch - camping is permitted anywhere, including two minutes from the Badlands gate. Whats more, on the east side of highway 240 (on the approach to the Badlands gate) is a break in the fence and a gravel road that leads a half mile to a long cliff, overlooking the valley below. Camping is permitted here, for free, for up to two weeks. The "cliff" as I called it, is the same topography and geology as the Badlands and it is incredible. This may be the best boondocking campsite I've ever had. There are no facilities of any kind and fires are not permitted but Wall is only 10 minutes away and the first park bathroom is less than 5 minutes. The cliff is miles long with sections of grassy land jutting out every few hundred feet. Every night, I would just drive until I was out of sight of the other campers and be in utter quiet and privacy. The coordinates for the entrance to the Grasslands are below and just follow the tracks, you'll see the other campers on the horizon.
Buffalo Gap National Grasslands entry point
The Badlands are an amazing place to visit and Buffalo Gap is an amazing place to stay. I hope to be over that way again.